arried couple slaughters 14 at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California. Assailants flee scene in black SUV. Police give chase and kill the murderers in a shootout.
On December 2, America watched these events unfold in silence. The media, however, were not so silent. They were busy trying to make the attack conform to their preferred narrative of right-wing extremism fueling gun violence, and downplaying to the greatest extent possible the role that Islamist ideology played in the killings.
Minutes after breaking the news of the shooting, CNN told its viewers the killing spree was happening blocks from a Planned Parenthood facility. Implication: This incident must be related to the previous week’s murder of three people outside a clinic in Colorado. “Planned Parenthood Clinic Across Street from San Bernardino Shooting,” liberal pundit Alan Colmes wrote hurriedly on his website. Except the clinic was actually more than a mile away. And was unaffected. And had never been a target.
Which did not stop liberals who believe the worst of pro-lifers from jumping to inane conclusions about the possible identities of the culprits, or from immediately classifying the attack as another bloody episode in America’s tragic “gun culture.” A New York Times editorial sniffed, “There will be post-mortems and an official search for a ‘motive’ for this latest gun atrocity, as if something explicable had happened.” What did the Times think had happened? A spontaneous combustion?
“The one thing we do know,” President Obama told CBS News that evening, “is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.” He added: “We don’t yet know what the motives of the shooters are . . . but what we do know is that there are steps we can take to make Americans safer,” such as implementing gun-control proposals that have no chance in Congress and would have done nothing to prevent the married murderers from obtaining their weapons.
By the morning after the attack, we knew the names of the killers: Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik. We knew that during the rampage the couple had worn tactical gear, had been armed with multiple weapons, and had left behind explosive devices. We knew, according to the local police chief, that “there had to be some degree of planning that went into this.” We knew Farook and Malik were Muslim, that their murder spree took place weeks after the ISIS attack in Paris, and that terrorism was not being ruled out by the authorities.
We did not need Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot or Father Brown to figure out what was going on. Here was another instantiation of the growing power of Islamist ideology. Islamic terrorism had just struck its worst blow on American soil since 9/11. Yet liberals in the media and in politics did all they could to delay acknowledging exactly this fact.
On December 4, the FBI announced it was treating San Bernardino as an act of terrorism. Malik had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. A media outlet associated with Islamic State claimed its supporters were responsible for the bloodletting. The FBI had discovered, according to the New York Times, “12 completed pipe bombs and a stockpile of thousands of rounds of ammunition” inside Farook and Malik’s apartment. The duo had “destroyed several electronic devices, including two smashed cellphones found in a trash can near their home, and erased emails.” This was not Charles Whitman in the University of Texas bell tower. This was Nicholas Brody in an episode of Homeland.
And yet the same news stories containing such damning evidence of a terrorist plot that at the very least drew inspiration from overseas also went out of their way to say the motive of the killers was unknown. “The exact motives,” reported the Times, “remain unknown, and law-enforcement officials say the couple had not been suspected of posing a danger.” The Washington Post cautioned, “The incomplete picture of the attackers and their motives reflects the difficulty of detecting and preventing attacks by individuals with few or no substantial connections to overseas terrorist investigations.”
The Daily News, whose front page hysterically likened Farook to National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre, said, “Police are still searching for a motive.” In his weekly radio address, broadcast the morning of December 5, President Obama raised the possibility “that these two attackers were radicalized to commit this act of terror,” but also warned his audience that investigators were still “working to get a full picture” of the attackers’ “motives.”
What details remained to be filled in? An Islamist doesn’t require a motive to attack. The ideology of Islamism is the motive. Searching for a Law and Order–style grievance behind the activities of the Islamic State and its global network of supporters is like asking what motivated the Nazis to barbarism. We know what motivated the Nazis: The fascist belief system of Nazism. It’s the same with Islamism.
When President Obama addressed the nation on Sunday, December 6, he said, finally, that what happened in San Bernardino was “an act of terrorism, designed to kill innocent people.” But he continued in his rush to non-judgment, saying, “So far, we have no evidence that the killers were directed by a terrorist organization overseas, or that they were part of a broader conspiracy here at home.”
Why say such a thing if you’re not sure it’s true? Events had already proven wrong some liberal assumptions about San Bernardino—that it was related to the abortion debate, that we didn’t know the motive, that Farook was a “normal guy” who had been “living the American dream.” Is it so out of the realm of possibility that the Valley jihadists were part of a larger terrorist cell? Simply during the hours I’ve spent writing this piece in early December, CNN has reported that Farook is suspected of planning a 2012 attack with someone other than Malik, and Fox has reported that the FBI is looking into the possibility that Malik came to this country as “an operative.” They don’t mean an operative for a political campaign. What will have been revealed about the killers by the time you finish this sentence?
Obviously the president does not want to get ahead of his skis and say something that turns out to be incorrect. But if I had to identify the motive, so to speak, for his eagerness to associate the attack with other highly publicized examples of gun violence, and his reluctance to identify the ideological motives of the San Bernardino terrorists, and the media’s complicity in both of these tasks, I would point to something more significant than bureaucratic self-preservation.
Admitting that Farook and Malik were motivated by Islamism, and were far from alone in their sympathies, would be to acknowledge, however subtly, that President Obama’s counterterrorism strategy has failed spectacularly—and that the “grievance” theory of terrorism, in which the killers are motivated by more prosaic demands than global Islamic conquest, is seriously flawed.
Identifying the culprits and their theological-political philosophy, and recognizing that like a religious conversion “radicalization” is something done in the company of others and with the ministration of institutions, would be to recognize that the president and his successor and our society at large face some very “hard choices” indeed. And it is precisely this sort of recognition, of course, that is the one thing the left cannot seem to accept.